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Russia5 February 2009

Authorities urged to react after yet another vicious assasult on a journalist

Reporters Without Borders today reacted with “revulsion” to the vicious beating of a 72-year-old journalist who has been critical of the local authorities.

Coming after the near fatal beating of journalist Mikhail Beketov and the murders of lawyer Stanislas Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, it underlined “a climate of extreme hostility to free expression in Russia,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Yuri Grachev, editor of local newspaper Solnechnogorsky Forum, was beaten on 3 February in a suburb of Moscow with such violence that he was left unconscious, with a broken nose, cheek injury and concussion.

The “revolting” attack on Grachev came the day after statements by the Russian authorities, including to the UN human rights council in Geneva, that only reinforced the impression that violence towards journalists is not treated seriously enough in the country, the organisation added, calling for an investigation to bring the assailants to justice.

“There must be an end to this impunity which only encourages violence. The authorities should realise the seriousness of the situation and stop making shameful statements,” it said.

The police spokesman for the Moscow region said that “various leads are being followed, including that of an assault in connection with a sex case or an attempted robbery”. No judicial investigation has been opened so far and one police official, Yevgeny Guildeev, said it he did not rule out any possibility : “The journalist could have stumbled or fallen and done himself the injuries found by the doctors”, he said.

Yuri Grachev’s newspaper is the only opposition publication in Solnechnogorsky. The attack is all more worrying since the city is in the middle of an election campaign. Residents are due to elect a mayor and local councillors. The forthcoming edition of the paper on 10 February was due to cover the election.

Tackled about repeated violence against journalists and human rights defenders, Russia’s justice minister, Alexander Konovalov, told the UN Human Rights Council yesterday that “murders of journalists and human rights activists in Russia are not linked to their work and should be considered as straight forward criminal cases,” without offering any further explanation.

Russian interior ministry spokesman, Valery Gribakin said in an interview posted on the ministry’s official website that, “Most murders of journalists in recent years are not linked to their work. When murder victims turn out to work for the media, their colleagues rush to the conclusion that their work is the main reason for their death. But, more often, they are sex cases.”

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